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Nobody really keeps count, but with estimates of hundreds of thousands of animal-vehicle collisions across North America every year, it may sometimes seem like the critters really are out to get us.

Collisions with squirrels, dogs, cats or possums are bad enough, but collisions with bigger animals – like deer, elk and moose – result not just in dead four-legged creatures, but dead motorists, too.

One thing’s for sure: the animals aren’t going to get any smarter. So, it behooves us drivers to bone up on ways we can prevent nasty close encounters with the furry kind, and minimize the auto damage and injuries when they occur. Here are some tips.

Use Caution When They’re More Likely to Appear

Seasonally, animals are more active in Fall and Spring more than other seasons. In Fall, they’re mating and looking for food to fatten up for winter. In Spring, they’re attracted to winter-time road salt that’s accumulated in drainage ditches. So it pays to be more cautious than usual during these seasons: drive more slowly in areas where animals are known to be, and be vigilant.

In terms of time of day, it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of all critter crashes occur between dusk and dawn. Many animals are more active at night than during the day, because they instinctively know they are safer from predators when it’s harder to be seen. Use your high-beams whenever you can – they cause a reflection in the animal’s eyes you can see.

Don’t Swerve

Your first reaction to the sight of an animal should be to hit your brakes while steering straight ahead.

Swerving can cause you to lose control and roll over or run into something worse – like another car, a tree or a bridge abutment. In the end, it may be better to hit the animal than something even bigger. Save turning the steering wheel for a secondary, controlled reaction after you’ve had a moment to gauge what’s around you.

Wear Your Seatbelt

This is just common sense, but there are thousands of people who still don’t buckle up. In a collision with an animal, being buckled in reduces your chances of a serious injury. Even if you miss that critter, violent accident-avoidance maneuvers can, in and of themselves, cause drivers and occupants an injury inside the vehicle.